Avon Old Farms Inn, a longtime destination for events, banquets and special-occasion meals, has undergone sweeping change in the past half-decade. And after nearly six years, its historical restaurant space at the foot of Avon Mountain is open again.
The centuries-old property closed in September 2010. Its owner cited business slowdown due to the construction of a runaway truck ramp put into place after two serious truck crashes on the mountain — including the 2005 dump-truck accident that killed four and injured 19. In 2011, Riverhouse Hospitality reopened the facility exclusively as a banquet space, renaming it Belle Terrace at Avon Old Farms. The restaurant area remained closed.
But a local family saw its potential. The Chabots – brothers Phillip, Christopher, Nicholas, sister Katrina and mother Christina – looked at the property in late 2014 or early 2015, said Nicholas Chabot. As the owners of Farmington Gardens, they had several years of banquet and event experience, but considered the Avon property as an investment.
The family ultimately bought the Avon Old Farms Inn in June 2015, renaming it The North House in honor of the North family, who settled the area in the 1600s.
"We wanted to rename it to take away from the confusion with the hotel across the street," Chabot said, referencing the Avon Old Farms Hotel. "What better way than to honor the people who originally settled into the property?"
They immediately took over the event management from Riverhouse, hosting a planned rehearsal dinner and wedding just two weeks later. But they were also interested in reintroducing the restaurant space, offering traditional New England fare in a town with lots of Italian eateries and specialty food, Chabot said.
In November, they began renovating the 300-seat restaurant, adding a new bar area, new floors throughout the dining rooms, lighting and new seating, including leather booths. The property's Forge Room, built as a blacksmith shop in 1832, retains its historic charm — and a hint of smoke from the fireplace.
Chabot realized quickly that restaurants have their own set of unpredictable challenges, as opposed to banquets, which are organized well in advance.
"It's unbelievable the amount of work every little thing takes to get a restaurant open and running," he said. A few soft-opening days in early March, though overwhelmingly busy, helped them work out quirks, and they debuted North House's restaurant operation on March 7.
Executive chef David Stickney brings a wealth of knowledge to the kitchen, with 10 years' experience at Max Restaurant Group's Max Amore and Max a Mia, and knowledge and influence gleaned from jobs in the South and on the West Coast. North House features a traditional dinner menu, with an array of upscale entrees: dry-rubbed duck breast with duck confit grits and preserved blood orange-duck glace; Stonington sea scallops with truffle cauliflower puree and local apples; chili honey glazed salmon with peanut potatoes and Swiss chard and a double rib Berkshire pork chop. Dry-aged Angus steaks include a rib-eye, New York strip and center-cut filet mignon.
Starters are seafood-heavy, with buttermilk-marinated and fried Point Judith calamari (with the addition of fried pickles, an unexpected twist); Cape Cod mussels and Rhode Island steamers with smoked pork belly. Cheeses and charcuterie feature local selections from New England states. A "tableside" clam chowder starts with a broth base, to which the server adds hot cream. First courses are $9 to $12; soup and salads are $8 to $10; entrees are $21 to $37.
A casual tavern menu ($9 to $27) spotlights comfort foods: tater tot poutine, fried smoked wings with a Coca-Cola chili glaze, and plates like tempura cod, pork belly grilled cheese with tomato bisque, a wild boar "sloppy Joe" and steak frites. A take on chicken and waffles presents a rye waffle with buttermilk fried chicken, maple candy crumbs and honey butter. "Franks and beans" features a beef hot dog, maple-baked gigante beans, brown bread and spicy mustard. Chabot said the "Anvil burger," ($14) is popular, with add-ons like sauteed mushrooms, fried pickles, sunny egg and various cheeses available for an extra charge. A separate lunch menu is in the works, with more sandwiches and salads.
Happy hour, available daily from 3 to 7 p.m., has helped introduce people to the new restaurant, Chabot said. Snacks ($2.50 to $6) include ahi tuna poke with wonton chips, steamed pork buns, $1 oysters and littleneck clams, and specials on beer, wine, spirits and craft cocktails. The bar features 24 craft beers (with several on nitro); about 120 scotches, more than 60 bourbons, 25 aged rums and 20 aged tequilas.
Brunch, available Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., offers decadent plates like a "hangtown fry" Benedict with bacon and a fried oyster, Stonington royal red shrimp and grits, housemade biscuits and gravy and a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich with turkey, bacon and cheddar mornay. Entrees are $14 to $26.
Chabot said he's been thrilled to hear from guests who have emotional, nostalgic attachments to the Avon Old Farms Inn.
"I don't know how many stories I've heard: 'My wife and I had our first date here,' Sweet 16 parties [or] 'I remember this baptism over here,'" he said. "The memories, you just can't replace them."
The North House, 1 Nod Road, Avon, is open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. 860-404-5951, thenorthhouse.com.